Historic partnership will shelter and serve unhoused persons in People’s Park

aerial view of People's Park

The collaboration will help support unhoused community members is a lease agreement with the Rodeway Inn, which will house those currently living in People’s Park. (UC Berkeley photo)

As the result of an unprecedented partnership between the city of Berkeley, the University of California, Berkeley and local nonprofit organizations, unhoused persons currently living in People’s Park will be offered interim housing in a converted motel, as well as a wide array of services that will support their transition to permanent housing. Additionally, the university, city and First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley are working together to construct and fund the operations of a new daytime drop-in center on the church’s grounds, where services and support will be provided for community members in need.

“We’re proud to honor the legacy of People’s Park and better meet the needs of our community through an effort that’s deeply reflective of Berkeley’s values,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “This partnership will put a roof over the heads of those living in People’s Park, instead of simply pushing them from one neighborhood to another. I’m deeply appreciative of all the partners that came together to make this happen.”

Last fall, Chancellor Christ promised that the construction of urgently needed student housing and permanent supportive housing at People’s Park would not begin unless and until housing and a new daytime gathering location would be offered to those currently living on and/or using the park’s grounds.

“We are grateful for and humbled by the coming together of this new alliance in support of a new People’s Park”, said Chancellor Christ. “Together, we will provide a true win-win-win for our students, for unhoused members of our community, and for all of the residents of the city of Berkeley.”

At the center of this historic collaboration between a university and a city to support unhoused community members is a lease agreement with the Rodeway Inn for 42 rooms that will house those currently living in People’s Park. Each resident will be provided with a recently remodeled private room; a kitchenette and bathroom; clean linens and essential toiletries; regular housekeeping service; and access to laundry facilities. In addition, a local, highly experienced non-profit, Abode Services, will offer residents daily meal service; access to clinical health care and counseling; transportation support; and housing “navigators” who will assist the Rodeway Inn residents with their transition to permanent housing solutions.

“Abode Services is thrilled to be assisting the City of Berkeley on this project by providing a person-centered, individualized approach that tailors social support, and physical and mental health services to each hotel guest,” said Abode Services CEO Louis Chicoine. “We believe everyone deserves a home and this is an important step for these guests, with our support, to find their way home.”

Utilizing a $4.7 million grant from the State of California’s Encampment Resolution Fund, the city of Berkeley will assume responsibility for the cost of leasing the Rodeway Inn for 12 months, and for the services provided by Abode during this same period of time. The university has committed approximately $2.2 million to cover expenses during the remaining six months of the lease.

“Last year, Gov. Newsom and the Legislature approved a multibillion-dollar investment to address California’s homelessness crisis. One portion of those funds was dedicated to transitioning homeless encampments into housing. I’m so pleased that this important project, a joint effort by the city of Berkeley, UC Berkeley, and local nonprofits, has been awarded $4.7 million to offer unhoused persons currently living at People’s Park a safe roof over their heads, along with much-needed services,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

Located in the city of Berkeley, The Rodeway Inn was previously and successfully used to provide interim housing to those who had been living in the encampment adjacent to the University Avenue interchange on Highway 80. The inn is currently used by the County of Alameda as a shelter for people who are especially vulnerable to COVID. Those currently living there have been offered permanent housing vouchers and housing navigation support so that they can successfully transition to housing by or before the end of April.

The Sacred Rest Daytime Drop-In Center

To serve unhoused community members who currently use People’s Park and the Telegraph neighborhood during the day, the Governing Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley unanimously approved a proposal by the church’s Campus Response Committee to establish the Sacred Rest Drop-In Center on its property. A conceptual rendering of the facility, designed by Berkeley professor emeritus Sam Davis, is available on the People’s Park Project website. The proposed design is subject to city permit review.

“Historically, First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley has strived to respond to the needs of the local community, leaning into its mission to love concretely even when it is risky and to serve generously,” according to a statement provided by the church’s Berkeley Campus Response Group. “As such, offering support to those who are needing shelter and care is woven into the fabric of our day-to-day operations. The First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley is excited about the ways in which the building of a daytime drop-in rest center on its campus will be an extension of that work and will provide a place where many can experience respite.”

The University has awarded a two-year $500,000 grant, and the City will provide an additional $250,000 to another, experienced local nonprofit, The Village of Love, for the provision of services at the center. Those services will include meals, mental health counseling, document preparation, housing navigation, shelter referrals, benefits access, and more. Here, too, a powerful coalition of community organizations and city offices will be joining forces to provide additional services to those in need.

“We are excited to partner with First Presbyterian, the university and the city to establish this much needed Daytime Drop-In Center in the Telegraph neighborhood,” said Village of Love Executive Director Joey Harrison. “We all need a safe place to rest, where our basic needs can be met, and where we can connect with those who care for us. The Village of Love team is committed to providing that safe place for our unhoused community members.”

The University Homeless Outreach Coordinator and city staff, along with a number of additional nonprofit partners who serve unhoused community members, will complement the work of the Village of Love, and the Telegraph Business Improvement District (TBID)’s street ambassadors who will provide support to Drop-In Center staff and management.

“We are encouraged by this multi-pronged approach to address the needs of the unhoused population currently staying in the park—particularly the commitment to secure access to shelter and expanded services before commencing construction,” said Alex Knox, the executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District. “Our organization and stakeholders are directly engaged in addressing community needs before, during and after the completion of the project. That includes the daily efforts of our Clean & Safe Ambassadors. This collaborative approach is the most beneficial and positive way forward for the entire community both in and around People’s Park.”

The idea for the Daytime Drop-In Center emerged from the findings of a university-commissioned study undertaken by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, who worked in concert with unhoused community members at People’s Park. A great many of those interviewed noted the need for a safe place to rest and connect with services during the day.

Construction of urgently needed student housing for more than 1,100 students on the People’s Park site is scheduled to begin during the summer of 2022, at which point the park will be closed. The People’s Park project also includes the construction of 100 units of permanent supportive housing for formerly unhoused and low-income community members, a project element that will be developed and operated by the local nonprofit developer Resources for Community Development (RCD) with supportive services provided by LifeLong Medical Care. The project will preserve 60% of the park’s ground as revitalized open space, which will include a commemoration of the park’s important history and legacy. Additional information about the project can be found here.

More coverage on this partnership can be found here.